Regionalising climate change targets 'not unreasonable' but challenging
Southland could have its own goals for combating climate change - but getting councils on board could prove challenging.
Australian, British and Swiss scientists argue in an article for science journal Perspectives that global targets to try and limit global warming to 2degC do not adequately address the urgency of the need to cut back carbon emissions.
They say individual regions should set their own targets, as not every country will be affected by climate change in the same way.
The Paris Agreement reached in December calls for countries to limit global warming to 1.5degC. The number was agreed upon after lobbying by Pacific nations at highest risk of warming temperatures and sea level rise.
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NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists said on January 21 that average worldwide temperatures in 2015 were hotter than any previous year since record-keeping began in 1880. The previous hottest year was 2014.
University of Otago honorary research fellow Dr Jim Salinger said the news was a signal that climate change was a very real threat, and that countries needed to act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"Otherwise dangerous climate change is imminent."
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) vice president Brendan Duffy said considering regionalising climate change goals was a good idea, but getting smaller councils in places like Southland on board might prove challenging.
"It has been made very clear to us by the Ministry for the Environment that climate change is an issue," he said.
"It behoves the Government to provide the data, and that data needs to be absorbed by regional councils to assist with decision-making. We've got to be on this. There's some modern thinking that is needed."
Duffy said councils might not be focusing on climate change because of a belief that its effects will take a long time to greatly impact communities.
"In the next 50 to 100 years, there's going to be regions and communities that are inundated [by sea level rise]. We need to prepare our communities now."
In Southland, Duffy said climate change could alter farming practices, making it impossible for some crops to grow.
Local and regional councils also needed to work together to develop climate change strategies, he said.
"The greater the level of collaborative engagement, the better."
Environment Southland (ES) chief executive Rob Phillips said climate change policy was handled at a national level.
"Environment Southland as a regional council will take its direction from central government," he said.
A Ministry for the Environment spokeswoman said the Ministry had no plans to consider giving regions specific climate change goals. However, she said that regions could still be proactive.
Venture Southland business and strategic projects manager Steve Canny said setting goals for limiting greenhouse gas emissions by region rather than a single worldwide target might work.
"The concept of regionalising greenhouse gas emissions is not unreasonable," he said.
"The difficulty is some regions are heavily dependent on certain industries."
Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said climate change had not been seriously discussed by the city council.
"I guess the reason we haven't discussed it as a council is we feel we'd be one of the areas least hit by climate change."
He said the council did not sign the Local Government Leaders Climate Change Declaration, a 2015 declaration from LGNZ signed by 29 mayors and councils around the country urging the Government to act on climate change.
Environment Southland was the only council in Southland that signed the declaration.
Gore District mayor Tracy Hicks said council action on climate change has not been considered without Government input.
"We certainly are influenced by central Government," he said.
"However, that's not to say we can't discuss the issue and do something locally. But at this stage it hasn't been discussed."
Hicks said combating climate change was something he believed needed to be done at a national level.
"If you're going to make a change, I would think it would have to be at a bigger level than the local level, a more macro than micro view."
Southland District mayor Gary Tong said his council did not have specific climate change goals.
"The goalposts keep changing with every new report that comes out," he said.
"However, we are aware of coastal erosion issues. A storm can change the whole landscape within hours. That's Mother Nature."
Invercargill National MP Sarah Dowie said she believed there were other things councils should focus on besides voluntary climate change targets.
"Councils are free to set or look at voluntary targets, but we feel that they should be more focused on spending ratepayers' dollars wisely, promoting strong regional economic growth, and investing in resilient local infrastructure."
Ben Mack: @benaroundearth